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King’s Bastion including one 12.5–38 ton Gun and two 10in–18 ton Guns

Ref: HLFP3/015

This bastion, located in front of the central part of the City, was the most prominent and effective defensive position of Gibraltar’s fortifications on the sea-facing wall during the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-83). It had originally consisted of La Plataforma de San Lorenzo [St. Lawrence’s Platform], constructed in 1575 over an earlier Moorish gateway. This rectangular platform appeared to have been the emplacement for a medieval tower which was cut down, at the time, at the level of the parapets on the curtain wall. This would have been the normal practice in the 16th century when funds were not readily available for the building of new pentagonal bastions, two of which appear to have been proposed but never constructed. Platforms usually provided good emplacements for guns firing out to sea; however, their outer flat faces could not be flanked from the adjoining curtain wall and therefore could be attacked with some impunity by any force landing from the sea.

Plan of the town of Gibraltar (1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña- annotated by Fa and Finlayson - 2006). The Plataforma San Lorenzo is marked as S.

As early as August 1725, Colonel Richard Kane, Lt. Governor of Gibraltar, had written to Lord Townshend, one of the Principle Secretaries of State, giving the distribution of arms and manpower and asking to be reinforced 'as cannon cannot be moved from place to place on occasion in so difficult country'. He also predicted the need for further bastions for in the same later he wrote that there was not one flanking work between the Old Mole and South Bastion. Fifty years later, King’s Bastion, situated over the original Moorish and Spanish sea fortifications in front of the City, was to be constructed as a formidable bulwark against any possible enemy attack from that quarter.

The Rock’s military engineer, Colonel William Green, who had earlier inspected Gibraltar’s defences concluded that although the northern fortifications were of a suitably high standard, those on the Line Wall, facing the sea, were in serious need of updating. In 1770, he submitted a detailed report to the Master General of the Ordnance regarding the grave deficiencies discovered, entitled ‘A Critical Review and Report of the State of the Fortifications of Gibraltar’. One of his proposals was to construct a circular bastion, with retired flanks covered by orillons on the Line Wall, armed and supplemented by a 13-inch mortar on the terreplein at a total cost of £13,190. This proposal was consequently modified to the present pentagonal King’s Bastion; its form consisting of a large arrow headed construction, projecting from the curtain wall. It would also contain bombproof casemates which would be utilised as barrack accommodation for about 800 soldiers. 

In 1772, his idea of a regiment of military artificers, to replace the civilian mechanics who had formerly constructed military works, came to fruition in the form of the Soldier Artificer Company, the predecessor of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners. These soldier artificers would be soon tested when employed in the construction of the King’s Bastion.

1760's - Green's blueprint for the King's Bastion.

Construction commenced in 1773, with the first stone laid by the Deputy Governor, Lieutenant General Sir Robert Boyd, who declared: ‘This is the first stone of a work which I name the King’s Bastion: may it be as gallantly defended, as I know it will be ably executed and may I live to see it resist the united efforts of France and Spain’. Governor Boyd had always considered that this part of the Line Wall defences would be crucial in defending the Rock against any enemy attack. Prior to the works being carried out, an opening was made in the sea line which rendered the fortress defenceless at that point. Furthermore, there had been a breach made as a result of a storm some years previously, which necessitated the posting of additional guards or piquets, with orders issued for all the guns and howitzers to be brought to bear there should the need arise. At the time, Boyd was not able to conceal his uneasiness from the Secretary of State, Lord Rochford, and wrote to him about the matter, stating that:

‘...there is an idea of glory, My Lord, in the thought of being killed in defending a breach made by the enemy, but to be knocked o’ th’ head in the defence of one of our own making would be a ridiculous death.’

Deputy Governor, Lieutenant General Sir Robert Boyd.

Lieutenant Colonel William Green, chief engineer for Gibraltar.

This new bastion was to become such a formidable enterprise with its parapets of solid masonry from ten to fifteen feet thick and some eight feet high, that it became General Eliott’s command post during much of the duration of the Great Siege (1779-1793), including the grand attack with floating batteries launched against the Rock on 13th September 1782.

Spanish Battering Ships set on fire during the attack on Gibraltar, Thomas Davis 1782.

The King's Bastion during the attack from the Spanish Battering Ships on 13th September 1782.

Colonel John Drinkwater, who was served in Gibraltar during this period and later wrote about his experiences in his ‘A History of the Siege of Gibraltar’, recorded a curious incident that took place in June 1781, at the King’s Bastion, during the aforementioned siege. He recorded that ‘a soldier, rambling about town, accidentally found in the ruins of a house, several watches and other articles of value, which he immediately made prize of; but how to secret them afterwards, was a subject that required the utmost reach of his invention. He was sensible he could not secure them in his quarters, as every soldier of his regiment was examined on his return from duty to his bomb-proof. He resolved therefore on a singular expedient: taking out the wad, which served as a tampion to a gun on the King’s bastion, he lodged his prize, which was tied to his handkerchief, as far as he could reach within the gun, and put the wad in its place. In time of peace, he could not have devised a better repository, but unfortunately the gun-boats came in the evening, whilst he was fast asleep in his casemate, not apprehending any danger to his treasure: this richly-loaded gun was of the first that was discharged at the enemy, and the foundation of his future greatness was dispersed in an instant’.

Spilsbury for his part records 32 pounders on the Bastion and noted that on the 19th November 1780 one of them burst killing a Gunner.

General Eliott on the King's Bastion, Gibraltar, September 13, 1782 by Thomas Malton the Younger.

It is recorded that whilst these floating batteries moored off King's Bastion, about 100 yards from the shore, mounted between 142 and 147 guns, (accounts differ in this respect), the number of guns on the sea wall of Gibraltar which could be brought to bear, and which were within range, was not greater than seventy and possibly only 56. But it was these guns, superbly manned, which won the day. According to Rollo, in the Library of the Royal Artillery Institution there is a set of manuscript notebooks which record the expenditure of ammunition by the Royal Artillery on that day. The number of barrels of powder used was 716 and 6820 shot and 1426 shell were fired. In another of the books, the expenditure between the 10th and 16th September is recorded as 855 barrels of powder, 7986 shot and 1477 shell. A third book states that on the day of the great attack the enemy fired 9754 shot and 1782 shell into Gibraltar.


General Eliott and his senior officers observing the destruction of the Spanish Battering Ships on 13th September 1782 by George Carter.

Identities of the officers in George Carter’s picture shown above.

The failure of the floating batteries to destroy the King’s Bastion and breach the Line Wall ensured that Gibraltar would not be taken despite the overwhelming superiority in both men and cannon mounted against the defenders by the combined forces of France and Spain. In February 1783, the siege was finally lifted and the British garrison celebrated their magnificent victory on St. George’s Day, April 23rd 1783. The celebrations included a procession from the Convent to King's Bastion, the later suitably decorated with a colonnade made from the masts and yards of the floating batteries. That same day, in the courtyard of the King’s Bastion, Eliott was invested as a Knight of the Bath by his Deputy Governor, Sir Robert Boyd.

Kings Bastion collonade superstructure (Spillsbury).

King's Bastion finished Colonnade (Spillsbury).

George Augustus Eliott with his medallion of a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath. Portrait by Mather Brown Portrait on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Following the end of the Great Siege, other essential improvements were carried out on the Rock’s fortifications, including works at Montagu and Orange Bastions and Waterport Front, although the King’s Bastion continued as the premier defence on the sea-line. The Governor, General Boyd, died on 13th May 1794, at the age of 84, and his wish to be interred within this fortification was carried out; in this respect, a marble plaque was set up on the north façade of the King’s Bastion in the Line Wall Promenade. The inscription reads, as follows: ‘Near this stone are deposited the remains of Sir Robert Boyd, K.B., Governor of this fortress. General of His Majesty’s Forces and Colonel of the 9th Regiment, in a vault prepared by his express desire at the construction of the Bastion. AD 1773.’

Boyd memorial King's Bastion south wall.

A plan of 1826 shows nine embrasures on the Right Face and seven on the Left Face with four on each flank. The 1834 Armament’s List, however, recorded that King’s Bastion mounted twenty-six guns: two brass 10-inch howitzers, fourteen 32-pdrs and ten 24-pdrs.

In 1840, Major General Sir John Jones KCB was sent to Gibraltar by the Master General of the Ordnance to make a detailed survey of the defences. He remained there until June 1841 and his report run to around 250 pages. The details concerning the King´s Bastion were as follows:

SEA DEFENCES OF THE TOWN: Towards the sea some very considerable reforms are indispensable in the Town defences, and I propose to replace the existing thin, decayed, ill-traced and ill flank scarps on the right and left of the King's Bastion by solid scarps, well flanked, and so traced as to aid in general the defences of the front. It is also proposed to cut off or retrench the King's Bastion which, from its very prominent position is much open to surprise and to be beaten down by cannonade. It is to be recollected that along every other part of the Rock a powerful force only can have a chance of success; but within the Town the entrance of a very small body might lead to the capture of the place. I have therefore endeavoured to strengthen the sea defences as far as their position and a due regard to expenditure admit; and although my views have been impeded, and my projects distorted by the mutual interference of private interests almost to the very parapets, still I feel assured that the new defences will prove equal to the object for which they are planned, and that with due vigilance the Town will have nothing to apprehend from external force.

The King's Bastion is the great bulwark and prominent feature of the defence of the sea line of the Town: It is a most creditable work, well planned and well built, but from its advanced position and the number of its embrasures, it is very likely to be selected as the object of s serious cannonade or stealthy surprise, and therefore should have the support of some interior work to give it that full security which its importance demands. It will scarcely be credited that neither at this bastion, nor at any point on the sea defences, does any provision exist for the residence of a Captain or Subaltern, and they are generally so distantly lodged that the place might be entered and the troops put into utter confusion before any company officer could reach the spot to direct their movements. Casemates have therefore been introduced under the rampart of the projected defensive line across the Gorge and caponniers are necessary for the purpose of scouring the dead portions of the scarp of the bastion caused by the projecting orillons.

These recommendations resulted in the construction of new casemated retrenchment block in the gorge immediately behind the King’s Bastion which replaced the already decommissioned 18th Century casemates within the King’s Bastion itself. These new accommodations became Married Quarters whilst the Officer’s Quarters and Mess House was constructed across the road: this last building would later become St. George’s and St. Mary’s School respectively and is presently the premises of the Casino Calpe. Photographs taken in the 1870’s show that this gorge was much wider than what remains today, with the ramp leading into the gorge directly in line with King’s Street rather than parallel with Line Wall as it is today. Modern road surfacing has covered much of the old gorge in order to straighten and widen the Line Wall Road for vehicular traffic.

King's Bastion, 1820's.

Drawings of the fortifications & works for the Line Wall, 1826 (WO 78 715).

1851 - Bartlett - Kings Bastion.

The rear of King's Bastion showing the barracks 1870's. Note the much wider gorge which was filled in to straighten the Line Wall Road during the early 20th Century.

Just before the 1856 re-armament there were six 8-inch shell guns, eight 32 pounders, nine 24 pounders and two 10-inch howitzers. These were proposed to be changed for Six 8-inch shell guns, seventeen 32 pounders and two 8-inch howitzers. By 1859, the King’s Bastion mounted twenty-five guns: seventeen 32 pounders, two 10-inch howitzers and six 8-inch smooth bore guns.

In 1868 a new scheme of artillery defence, recommended by Colonel W.F.D Jervois, was approved. one of the new batteries was to be at King's Bastion. In December 1872, the Director of Artillery and Stores reported that the plan was to mount one 11-inch and four 10-inch RML guns. Masonry work was in progress but at that time not much work had been completed. The shields were on the site and work would be completed in about 12 months. The guns, carriages and platforms would be sent when the battery was ready. In the event the 11-inch gun was ordered to be replaced by one of the new 12.5 inch guns and accordingly the Bastion was reconstructed between 1873 and 1878 to take one 12.5 inch RHL and four 10 inch RML's. During this work, the embrasures along the front faces of the Bastion were removed to mount the five Rifled Muzzle-Loading Guns: four 10-inch RML’s and one 12.5-inch RML within an iron armoured casemate, using thick iron laminates, and set up in the central angle of the Bastion. The larger gun was to be in the centre in an iron shielded casemate with two firing ports, the gun being mounted on a turntable, with two 10-inch guns either side also in iron shielded casemates. Work commenced in December 1870 and was completed on the 19th May 1877. Work started in November 1879 and was completed on 24 December 1880. The old flank smooth bore gun embrasures were left intact, four each on the right and left flanks, but were not armed.

Diagram of gun carriage for the RML 12-5 inch 38 ton gun.

Record plan of Kings Bastion Emplacement for 12-5 Gun 38 Ton (WO 78 4267).

Kings Bastion map shewing field of view for guns.

In 1897 two 12 pounder QF guns were mounted on the roof of the shielded battery in an anti-torpedo boat role until the new harbour works were completed. These guns were removed in 1904 when the Moles 12 pounder batteries were built. The bastion’s RML’s guns meanwhile had already been de-commissioned in 1902 with the internal casemates had by then already been converted into coal stores. The RML guns, however, were considered too large to scrap and too difficult to remove from the bastion. They were therefore discarded next to the shielded casemates, some with the rope mantlets still in position and only the carriage slides being removed. The rope mantlets remained in place until the refurbishment of King’s Bastion into a Leisure Centre in 2008 when they were finally removed and stored within one of the garages in The Mount. Also during this period, two of the 10-inch RML’s were also removed and placed within the casemated Orange Bastion.

View from the sea of the King's Bastion following the reconstruction of the casemated front of the battery circa 1880's.

View from the right flank of the King's Bastion following the reconstruction of the casemated front of the battery circa 1880's.

In 1890, the Colonial Government of Gibraltar commissioned Welsh electrical engineer William Henry Preece (1834–1913) to ‘enquire into the propriety of introducing electric light’ in Gibraltar. On the 15th September 1896, construction of the King’s Bastion Power Station began thanks to a loan raised under the Electric Light Ordinance of 1892. The first demonstration of electric lighting in Gibraltar was conducted in April 1897. The Electric Light department was established on the 9th March 1898.

Despite the conversion of the courtyard into an electricity generating station the top part of the Bastion continued to mount guns becoming the Saluting Station, and in 1913 there were seven 32 pounder Smooth Bore Breech Loading guns which were specially mounted for saluting purposes. By 1920 these had been replaced by five 18 pounder QF Mark I o r Mark II guns on Mark I field carriages, the field gun of the day. After World War II these guns were replaced by 25 pounders but, rather unusually, placed on static mounts. Up to 1956 the salutes had been fired here by 28 Coast Regiment but on the disbandment of that unit 54 AA Regiment took over. When they left in 1958 the remaining RA unit. The Instructional and Maintenance Troop, was made responsible for training the men of the resident infantry battalion on saluting duties. Later the task was taken over by the Gibraltar Regiment who fired the salutes, with 25 pounders, from Devil’s Gap Saluting Battery.

Two views of old generating station, including chimney stack, at King's Bastion, circa 1930.

Two views of old generating station, including chimney stack, at King's Bastion, circa 1930.

During the period leading up to the Second World War, a number of concrete bunkers were constructed on its stone walls, with the Bastion functioning as a look-out post.

In 1938, provision was made for an AASL (Anti-Aircraft Sound Locator unit) to be located at King’s Bastion to be known as Q2. This was a 90 cm AASL which was manned from August 1939. It was moved to Zoca Flank on 20th November 1940. Another 90 cm SL was Installed later and was still there in March 1944 as a secondary site. It was finally removed in September 1945. Two 3.7-ins Anti-Aircraft guns were mounted on the roof of the barracks on the gorge.

The Bastion was also the site for an AALMG position of two guns deployed here first on the 11th March 1940. Later, in 1942, a 2 pounder anti-tank gun was placed within the King’s Bastion Coal Tunnel to be run out to engage armoured vehicles on Reclamation Road or landing craft in the harbour in the event Operation Felix was ever implemented by the German High Command.

World War II observation post, since removed.

In 1961, it was decided to construct a new electrical power station against this fortification and to incorporate all the ancillary services, oil stores and administrative offices within the complex. The station was designed by local architect Natalio Langdon. During the General Strike of August 1972 power cuts at the Generating Station became a common tactic deployed by the Transport and General Workers Union led by Jose Netto and the Integration with Britain Movement led by Major Bob Peliza. The power cuts became a constant disruption to municipal services following the Big Lie election held in June of that year and continued during the struggle for wage parity with the UK which, despite considerable political and social upheaval, was finally granted in 1976. The TGWU would continue to use intermittent power cuts as a secondary tactic to apply political pressure on the Government to achieve further economic benefits for its members right until the closure of the power station in the early 1980’s.

In 1982, following the modernisation of electricity generation on the Rock, another generating station known as Waterport Power Station was set up in the North Mole and the King’s Bastion site was eventually abandoned.

King's Bastion Generating Station.

Scenes outside the generating station at Kings Bastion during the general strike of 1972.

One of the 10-inch RML gun at King's Bastion before restoration works.

A pair of 10-inch RML's King's Bastion before restoration works.

In October 2005, the old 1961 Power Station abutting the Bastion was demolished and the entire site cleared of all the temporary buildings and stores set up over the past century. After extensive refurbishment, the King’s Bastion was given a new lease of life when it opened on 28th February 2008 as the Leisure Centre. In What had effectively been the main bulwark in the Rock’s 18th century defence the King´s Bastion latest incarnation now offers a wide array of entertainment including bowling, ice skating, an amusement arcade, a games room, an internet lounge, a restaurant, numerous bars, a youth bar/lounge, a disco, cinemas and a fitness gym, all contained within the existing 300-year-old structure. As part of this refurbishment programme the 12-inch and two remaining 10-inch RML’s were restored in their original casemates.

Abandoned 12-5 inch RML inside the casemates, King's Bastion.

Restored 10-inch RML, King's Bastion.

Aerial view of the King's Bastion Leisure Centre.

Restored coal tunnel in King's Bastion.

King's Bastion bowling lanes.

King’s Bastion including one 12.5–38 ton Gun and two 10in–18 ton Guns Image